I recently received this email from a friend of mine,
I have a question about 2 Timothy 3:14-17, which reads:
“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become
convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and
how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to
make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All
Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God
may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
First, what is the original word used for “scripture” and
“scriptures,” and what does it mean (more fully)?
Second, assuming the word means Biblical writings, how do we know what
is included as “all Scripture” — just Old Testament writings, or does
it include the Gospels, too?
Third, can this passage possibly be referring to itself? Or to
“scriptures” that may not have been written yet as of the composition
date of that letter? Like, if John and Acts were written later, do
I’d like to know your thoughts, or if you have some references you
could point me to.
These are some really good questions and I appreciate your desire to learn more about it. I hope this helps.
1) The word used in the New Testament for “scripture” is the greek word γραφη (graphe) which is normally defined as “writing” and is the root for many English words – autograph, stenograph, grapheme, etc. When used in the New Testament it always refers to inspired scripture (hence its translation as “scripture” and not “writings”).
2) The possibilities of what “scripture” can refer to in the New Testament does depend on what has been written to that point. Obviously you cannot make reference to something that does not yet exist. So the Gospels can only reference the Old Testament (Mtt 21:42, Mtt 22:29, Mtt 26:54, Mark 12:10, etc) usually to remind people that certain scriptures were to be fulfilled and Jesus often says that he has fulfilled them.
Timothy had a mother who was a Jew and a father who was a Gentile (Acts 16:1). The scriptures he was raised on “from infancy” would have almost certainly been the Old Testament. It should be noted that the word translated here “scriptures” is not the same as the word in 3:16 (grammata in 3:15 vs. graphe in 3:16) but Paul’s meaning is almost certainly the same. Some could argue that Paul must have meant something different in these two verses since he used two different words (Old Testament vs Old + Some of the New?) but that is unfounded and not very likely. Paul says that these scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:15). Is Paul referencing the fulfillment of OT scripture that could build our faith in Jesus being the Christ or does this mean he is referencing some NT material as well? I don’t know that we can get a solid answer but we do have some clues.
- In 1 Cor 7 Paul seems to make a distinction between what his opinion is and the parts of what he is writing that are from God (esp 7:10). That might indicate that Paul understood some of what he wrote to be inspired scripture even as he was writing it. 1 Corinthians was probably written between 54-56. 2 Timothy was probably written around 65-66. If Paul believed what he wrote in 1 Corinthians and other letters prior to 2 Timothy (basically all of Paul’s other letters since he was executed in 67) were inspired then 2 Tim 3:14-17 could reference his own writings as inspired and useful for correcting, rebuking, etc.
- In 2 Peter 3:14-16 Peter almost certainly references the writings of Paul as on the level with other inspired scriptures. This would mean the apostles viewed Paul’s writings as inspired scripture.
So when Paul says “all scripture” in 66 AD he is definitely referring at a minimum to the OT (as that is what Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him) and there is the potential that he is making reference to any of the NT writings to that time because Paul and the apostles probably viewed those writings as inspired.
3) This would not be a reference to anything written after that point but that does not mean that this passage does not apply to them. Paul didn’t know Revelation would be written by John 25 years after Paul’s death but because Revelation is inspired it would certainly fall in the category of that which is useful for teaching, rebuking, etc.
I hope my thoughts have not been too jumbled up. I have had a couple of trains of thought running through my head all at once. Let me sum it up. There is a very good possibility that what Paul is referring to in 2 Timothy is more than the Old Testament because it appears that at least Paul and Peter viewed the epistles as inspired. It also can apply to what is written after 2 Timothy, although Paul couldn’t have known it because it wasn’t yet written. What makes it applicable is that God inspired all of it and if it is inspired, it is useful.